Ayuko Moriya Walks in Her Ancestor’s Footsteps

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Ayuko Moriya is on a journey.

She is determined to walk in the footsteps of her ancestor: the 19th century travel writer and Japanologist, Lafcadio Hearn. Those footsteps have taken her across Europe, to the US, and to her now-home of Tramore, Ireland. This week, I wanted to do something a little different and share her story, one of an extraordinary young woman I met by chance in a seaside Irish town.

Together, Ayuko and I traveled with our partners to the west of Ireland and retraced some of the footsteps of Lafacadio Hearn. Together, we laughed and shared meals while connecting over the joys of traveling and immigrating to Ireland. She’s a wonderful person and I’m so glad to consider her a friend. I hope you enjoy this piece about her life and her journey to retrace the footsteps of one of her ancestors.

A photo of Ayuko Moriya, direct descendant of Lafcadio Hearn
Ayuko Moriya, the great, great granddaughter of Lafcadio Hearn. Photo credit: Ayuko Moriya.

Who are Ayuko Moriya and Lafcadio Hearn?

Ayuko is the great, great granddaughter of the late Irish travel writer and Japanologist Lafcadio Hearn (June 27, 1850 – September 26, 1904). Hearn is also known by his Japanese name, Yakumo Koizumi. During his life, Hearn traveled prolifically before settling in Japan and marrying Ayuko’s great, great grandmother, a Japanese woman named Setsu Koizumi.

Lafcadio Hearn was a travel writer for most of his life, but he is best known for his ghost stories, which he wrote while living in Tokyo. The stories are captivating, spooky affairs, but they also hold a greater significance in that they were one of the first translations of Japanese culture to the West after a prolonged period of cultural and political isolation. His stories helped the west to understand Japanese culture, but they also became a part of the literary canon in Japan. Hearn’s stories are, to this day, often required reading for secondary school students. In 1964, four of his stories were adapted into a film, Kwaidan

This is a seaside photo of Tramore, the Irish town where we first met Ayuko and Keith. Photo credit: Ayuko Moriya.

Ayuko is a fascinating person. She’s artistic, having studied jewelry making in her university in Japan, and possesses a poise and charm that feels at once regal and disarming. She’s well traveled, having lived in Germany, Ireland, and Japan, in addition to visiting many countries around the world. If you show an interest, she’ll patiently describe her great, great grandfather’s life, writing, and legacy in great detail. You get the sense that she finds him endlessly fascinating, and with good reason.  

Growing up in Tokyo in a Samurai family, Ayuko was vividly aware of her great, great grandfather’s legacy. Many of her relatives have dedicated their lives to upholding Hearn’s legacy, occasionally appearing for interviews with a variety of publications.

In 2017, Ayuko visited a garden dedicated to Lafcadio Hearn in Tramore, Ireland. Hearn had lived for a period as a child in Tramore, and therefore the place held a great deal of significance for those wanting to preserve his legacy. Ayuko’s relatives happened to be present on the fateful trip to Ireland, and, during this visit, she met her now-husband, Keith.

Ayuko’s Journey

Ayuko’s journey began when she was 28 years old. After studying in Tokyo, she was working in hospitality, not entirely sure where her journey would take her. After spending a day rifling through her grandmother’s possessions a few years ago, Ayuko was captivated by Lafcadio Hearn’s travels and inspired by the places he had visited. It was on this trip that she decided that she would retrace her great, great grandfather’s footsteps and document her journey.

An image of the Rock of Cashel, a castle that I visited with Ayuko Moriya while she was walking in the footsteps of her ancestors.
A view of the Rock of Cashel, one of the stops on our road trip (but not a place that Hearn visited, as far as I know). Unfortunately, our driver (me) directed to the wrong Cashel, so we arrived too late to take a tour.

So far, her journey has taken her across Japan, through Europe, and to the United States. She has stayed with friends, looked out at vast landscapes while wondering, “Did my great, great grandfather stand in this very place?” and, along the way, she met a man and fell in love. Her great, great grandfather has a loyal following of people who are fascinated by his life and legacy, and eagerly swap stories with Ayuko whenever they get the chance. 

While on this trip to Ireland, Ayuko befriended one of the garden’s tour guides, Keith. Before the pandemic, Ayuko and Keith were married in a very small ceremony in Japan, with only a few family members in attendance. Keith returned to Ireland without Ayuko while they finalized their immigration paperwork, and then she joined him in August of 2020. Ayuko has been living in Tramore, Ireland with her husband ever since.

Ayuko Moriya, descendent of Lafcadio Hearn, with her husband
Ayuko with her husband, Keith.

A Chance Meeting

I first met Ayuko Moriya by chance on a drive through the Irish seaside town of Tramore, where she lives. My partner, Jake, and I had been camping nearby, and were looking for breakfast on our way back north to Wicklow, when we spotted a lovely looking bakery in Tramore on Google Maps. Never one to skip a good bakery, we knew we had to stop. 

We drove along the coast until we found a parking spot in town, and set off to find the bakery. While walking towards our intended breakfast spot, we happened to notice a sign for gardens dedicated to the 19th Century Irish writer Lafcadio Hearn. This caught Jake’s attention immediately because he is a distant relative of Hearn, we think they are first cousins four times removed. 

Jake in front of the Lafcadio Hearn gardens in Tramore. We later met Ayuko Moriya here.
Jake in front of the Lafcadio Hearn gardens in Tramore. This is the photo we took in front of the sign, bakery treats and all.

As we stopped for a moment to stare at the sign for the gardens, a volunteer from the local tourism office in Tramore, Johnny, noticed us and flagged us over. We chatted with Johnny for several minutes, during which time he explained to us that he is a “blow in” which means, essentially, someone who lives in a place that is different from the place they were born. He is a blow in from Dunmore East, a town that’s about an 18 minute drive from Tramore. I later heard the term used on the podcast West Cork about the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier and its subsequent investigation. Sophie was also a blow in. 

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After speaking with Johnny for a while, Jake shared his relation to Lafcadio Hearn. Intrigued, Johnny in turn told us of Ayuko Moriya, a direct descendent of Hearn’s who had moved to Ireland after marrying a local man in Tramore. He insisted that we go to the gardens to meet her, and let us know that he’d call to let them know we were on our way. We thanked him and set off on our original mission: breakfast.

This is the view from Glendalough, one of the spots I visited with Ayuko Moriya on our road trip.

After collecting enough baked goods from Seagull Bakery to feed a small family, we wandered by the gardens, hoping to find a spot under a treat to enjoy our spoils. When we arrived, it was clear that the gardens were not going to be appropriate for our impromptu picnic, so we took a quick photo in front of the sign and ate a snack on the sidewalk. We did peek our heads in, but the gardens had an entrance fee and we simply weren’t that dedicated to seeing them.

Fortunately for us, however, the combined forces of fate and Johnny had other plans. There was really only one way back to our car, and it took us right past Johnny. He waved us over and excitedly asked if we enjoyed our visit to the gardens, to which we sheepishly replied that we had taken a photo in front of the gate. That wouldn’t do for Johnny, and he immediately called the gardens again and let them know that we were, in fact, on our way back up. Not wanting to offend him a second time, we acquiesced.

Image shows a scene from the Lafcadio Hearn Japanese Gardens in Tramore Ireland.
This is a view of the Lafcadio Hearn Japanese Gardens in Tramore, Ireland. I first met Ayuko while on a road trip along the east coast of Ireland. Photo credit: Ayuko Moriya.

We wandered the gardens–which are beautiful, by the way!–and then the staff brought us tea and cake to enjoy while we waited for Ayuko to arrive. Her husband, Keith, spoke to us intermittently, though he was clearly consumed with the small barrage of tasks like making tea, introducing visitors to the garden, and running the cash register. Truthfully, we almost left before Ayuko made it to the gardens. We were about to head out when Keith let us know that it would just be a few more minutes, so we decided to stay put and wait just a little longer. 

Eventually, she did arrive. When we first met Ayuko, she was wearing a beautiful patterned kimono-styled coat and dangling earrings with small origami cranes that I would later learn she made herself. She sat perfectly poised, with a seemingly natural elegance. She greeted Jake, who we think is her fifth cousin, enthusiastically, and they compared notes about their shared family tree. Ayuko and I bonded quickly while sharing our stories of immigrating to Ireland on a spousal visa (or, in my case, a de facto spouse visa). It was during that encounter that Ayuko suggested we take a trip together to Cong in the West of Ireland, and we readily agreed. 

Lafcadio Hearn's family tree, provided by Ayuko Moriya.
This is a copy of Lafcadio Hearn’s family tree, provided by Ayuko for this story.

Traveling to Cong

We stayed in touch with Keith and Ayuko on Instagram for a few months, and finally took our trip in August of 2021. They spent a night with us while we were living in Wicklow, Ireland and then we took a road trip to Galway and Cong. Throughout the trip, Ayuko took photos and videos, documenting her journey through the places where Lafcadio Hearn was thought to live or study or write. You can watch Ayuko’s video from the trip here.

Photo shows the backside of Ashford Castle, the castle near a house where Lafcadio Hearn may have lived. I visited this castle with Ayuko Moriya while she walked in the footsteps of her ancestors.
A view of Ashford Castle, one of the places we visited while in Cong, Ireland.

We spent our first night with Keith and Ayuko talking long into the night, drinking Irish whiskey, and swapping stories. That night, there was a meteor shower, so all four of us laid outside on the ground and stared up at the sky. I made a wish, and then we exchanged the origin stories of our relationships, reflecting on the feelings of love and lovelessness you feel just after and just before you meet your partner. The couple had been friends in the period before they started dating, and their friendship had grown into romance over time while Ayuko was living in Ireland and tracing the footsteps of her ancestor. 

The next day, we packed up and left for Dublin to meet Irish Times journalist John Moran. John met Ayuko on her first trip to Ireland when he was also present for the opening of the Lafcadio Hearn Japanese Gardens. He has been interested in Lafcadio Hearn for years and has published articles about his life and legacy.

At brunch with John Moran! Left to right: Keith, John Moran, Amber, Jake, and Ayuko.

We shared a lively and fascinating brunch with John, a man who could keep you on the edge of your seat while telling nearly any story. We talked for hours about topics ranging from John’s travels to Cuba to his opinions about authoritarianism. He expressed his deep compassion for Hearn’s stepmother, Rosa, and gave us a list of all of the best writers’ pubs in Dublin.

After leaving Dublin, we set off towards Galway, and Ayuko had Japanese food on her mind. Along the way, we stopped at Clonmacnoise, the monastery where Ayuko shot a great deal of this video. She navigated us to a Wa Sushi, a small restaurant near the docks in Galway and we collected our takeout Japanese food before returning to eat in the car. If you visit Galway, Wa Sushi is definitely worth a stop if you’re craving Japanese food.

Ayuko Moriyga with a man she met in Cong, Ireland while walking in the footsteps of her ancestor, Lafcadio Hearn
Ayuko with Robert Scott, she met at a bookstore in Cong, Ireland. She approached him to ask if he knew any of her ancestors, and he gave her a copy of Around and About Cong, a book he’s written about the area that he thought could aid in her research. Keith and Ayuko graciously gave us a copy of the book as gift.

We spent the next day in Cong, a small but charming town about 45 minutes north of Galway. While in Cong, we walked to a large, open field in front of Ashford Castle, a castle-turned-upscale-hotel with a helipad near its parking lot. Through the pouring rain, Ayuko pointed to a grassy area and explained that it’s possible her great, great grandfather stayed in a guest house right there.

According to her research, there had been a house in that spot, though it was long since demolished. If you’re so inclined, you can see Starand Hill for yourself in the 1952 film, “The Quiet Man.”

Ayuko smiled for a second thinking of her great, great grandfather, then moved on. Shortly afterwards, she was elated to see a great blue heron–Lafcadio Hearn’s favorite bird. To her, this felt like proof that Hearn had taken a moment to swoop by and bless this trip. I reveled in the magic of it all.

Lafcadio Hearn family seal
Hearn’s love for herons is well known to those who study his legacy. He even designed a heron into the Koizumi family crest.

Throughout our trip, it was obvious that Ayuko takes her time getting to know a place. She often took some time to simply absorb a place before speaking to the group. She is thoughtful, often carefully crafting her sentences before she speaks them into existence. Her drive to understand and connect and contextualize continuously impresses me. It’s not all heavy, though. Ayuko brings a lightness and humor everywhere she goes, as exemplified by her cat she lovingly named Chicken.

Final Thoughts

If Ayuko Moriya is on a timeline, you’d never know it. She seems to just move forward, learning more about her great, great grandfather all of the time, and celebrating his legacy by exploring the world as he did in the 1860s, 70s, and 80s. 

Clonmacnoise monastery, one of the places that Ayuko Moriya walked in the footsteps of Lafcadio Hearn
A view of Clonmacnoise monastery in County Offaly, Ireland.

It helps that she seems adept at making each new place like home, as she loves to showcase her efforts to cook Japanese dishes using ingredients from Ireland on her YouTube channel. This one is my favorite of these videos. She even told us that when she first moved she started to eat mozzarella balls with soy sauce, a dish we tried and found to be surprisingly close to having the texture of fish.

Whenever I think of Ayuko, I feel inspired by her courage and willingness to follow her own curiosity. She embodies the spirit of a World Traveler. I watched her wander into bookstores and ask the clerk if he knew any of her distant relatives. I met others who were inspired by the life and legacy of Lafcadio Hearn, all too excited to share it with her. She seems to appreciate their interest, and is happy to let them see glimpses into her life and journey.

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Her humility and willingness to take risks has led her on a fairly extraordinary journey, and I feel so lucky to have been able to spend a small part of it with her.

Ayuko Moriya walking along a path in Wicklow, Ireland.
Ayuko walking along a path in Wicklow, Ireland.

If you want to keep up with Ayuko, you can follow her on Instagram (@ayuko322), follow her on Twitter (@ayuko322), and/or subscribe to her YouTube channel. She also teaches Japanese lessons over Zoom, you can reach her by email to learn more.

I hope you enjoyed this story. If you have met another extraordinary traveler, let me know in the comments!